Rich in resources, but challenges remain
Houghton-area mental health resources featured in recent meeting
By Jennifer Donovan
Editor’s note: Jennifer Donovan is a member of the Mental Health Support Group-Keweenaw Area.
The room was filled, and emotions ran high.
“My son committed suicide four years ago,” one woman said. “Since then, I have made a wish list.”
She was holding back tears. You could hear it in her voice.
“We need our own psych ward here, not hours away or downstate. We need a separate, safer wing in psych wards for people who are suicidal. We need safe housing and support for people after a suicide attempt, a halfway house with trained staff on hand.”
Dr. Michelle Morgan replied, “These needs have been here for a long time. People have been working on them for a long time. We don’t have time to wait. We need to reach out and help each other.”
Dr. Morgan is a psychiatrist and retired director of Copper Country Community Mental Health. She now heads a new organization, Keweenaw Support 4 Healthy Minds, that is working to increase awareness of mental health issues, empower people who have a mental illness, and build a resilient, knowledgeable community trained to help each other and support those at risk.
She was one of the speakers at a Mental Health Awareness Month program sponsored by the Mental Health Support Group-Keweenaw Area on Wednesday, May 11 at the Portage Lake District Library.
Speakers from five community organizations talked about their work and answered questions. Virginia Lambert and Paige Setter-Hallwachs outlined the many services that Dial Help provides. Beth Shannon and Angela Price described the efforts of Unite Mental Health and Wellness. Mike Bach, incoming director of Copper Country Mental Health, discussed the work of his state and federally-funded agency. Cindy Harrison and Catherine Paavola explained the history of Mental Health Awareness Month and their Mental Health Support Group-Keweenaw Area. And Dr. Morgan described the vision and goals of Keweenaw Support 4 Healthy Minds.
Recently established and based in the former College Avenue Vision Clinic near downtown Houghton, Unite Mental Health and Wellness helps people connect with mental health services. They hope to help people who are feeling overwhelmed navigate the mental health system. The organization is a nonprofit offering both telehealth services and in-person therapy. Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance cover their services.
Dial Help is best known for its crisis hotline, but they actually run four different programs for Houghton, Keweenaw, Baraga, and Ontonagon Counties:
Crisis services, including the 24/7 crisis line; Safety Net, which is a follow-up program for people at risk of suicide, suicide survivors, families of suicide victims, and those seeking help for substance abuse; suicide assessment at UP Health System-Portage’s emergency room; and Youth One-Stop, a counseling program for youth in crisis.
Victim services, which include 24/7 emergency advocates, ongoing advocate support, child advocacy, counseling for crime victims, accompaniment to court proceedings, and sexual assault nurse examiners.
Mental/behavioral health, including alcohol or drug assessments, peer recovery groups, substance abuse counseling, suicide prevention training, and Crisis Support 101, based on Dial Help’s crisis line.
Prevention programs, which include Communities that Care—a federal substance abuse and violence prevention program, family support services, in-school prevention programs, and violence prevention education.
Dial Help also answers the national Suicide Prevention Hotline for callers from our area.
The Dial Help crisis line is 906-482-HELP (4357).
This agency is primarily federally and state-funded, with philanthropic support from the Rice Foundation and grants. It provides a variety of mental health services to people receiving Medicare and Medicaid, including emergency services, outpatient therapy, peer support, intensive crisis stabilization, home-based services, nursing home services, and residential services in group homes. It also sponsors the Northern Lights Clubhouse in Hancock where adults with mental illness work together to build on their strengths, talents, and abilities to increase their independence in the community.
CCCMH’s emergency number is 800-526-5059. The new request for services number is 888-906-9060.
The group was formed after Keweenaw County Sheriff Curt Pennala organized a public meeting to discuss increasing teen suicide. Its vision statement is: “We support healthy minds through connection and community.”
Goals include raising awareness and getting people to talk more openly about mental health issues, teaching healthy ways to cope with stress, supporting those at risk, and decreasing access to means of doing harm to oneself or others.
“You lock up your toxic chemicals to keep them out of children’s hands,” said Dr. Morgan. “You also need to lock up your guns.”
This summer, the group is focusing on helping people learn to talk comfortably with someone in crisis. They are offering free training in QPR, which stands for question, persuade, refer. The Keweenaw County Sheriff is planning to become a QPR trainer, Dr. Morgan said.
She hopes to build Circles of Support, volunteers who can help a person just released from a psychiatric hospital. The highest risk for suicide occurs during the first 30 days after hospitalization, she said.
Keweenaw Support 4 Healthy Minds meets at 6:30 p.m. on the last Tuesday of the month at the Portage Lake District Library.
A peer support group for people with mental illness and their families, the Mental Health Support Group-Keweenaw Area was founded in 1989 by Larry and Carol Evers, with the help of Copper Country Community Mental Health. It then became a chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The group decided to drop its affiliation with NAMI in 2018, due to national NAMI’s financial and organizational requirements becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for small, rural groups like this one to meet.
But the need for support remained, so the group reorganized as a purely local nonprofit called Mental Health Support Group-Keweenaw Area, partnering with Dial Help. They meet at The Institute, 900 W. Sharon Avenue in Houghton, at 6 p.m. on the second Wednesday of the month. They also sponsor public programs like the one recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month. This year’s Mental Health Awareness Month theme is Back to Basic, a renewed focus on mental health awareness and combating stigma.
The Mental Health Support Group-Keweenaw Area has no website or phone number but can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
During the question and answer session at the Mental Health Awareness Month program, Catherine Paavola, a Mental Health Support Group-Keweenaw Area member, said that it would help eliminate stigma if people called mental illness “brain illness.”
She explained: “The brain is the organ of the body that is affected. Brain illness is organic, centered in the brain. It is not a moral failing or a choice.”
Cindy Harrison, also active in the Mental Health Support Group-Keweenaw Area, gave a shout-out to law enforcement.
“The police and sheriff’s departments in our area have been outstanding in their concern about mental health issues,” she said. “They are getting Crisis Intervention Training, learning how to defuse a person in crisis and get them to the proper services.”
Mary Peed, a Keweenaw Support 4 Healthy Minds member, pointed out that there are other mental health resources here too, the VA for example.
“You just have to keep looking and knocking on doors,” she said.